I was forwarded a fascinating email today by a co-worker, it is a single email showing a series of images from 1945 Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The email discusses how both cities were devastated by atomic weapons in 1945 by the United States, then the email shows a series of pictures of modern Hiroshima. They, of course, depict the modern vibrant city that is now Hiroshima, many of the shots are lovely nighttime images of the city aglow with lights and life. The email then includes a series of images of modern Detroit, drawing a link between the dilapidated conditions in Detroit today and the amazing wonder of Hiroshima, the email argues that both cities suffered devastation but Detroit was not rebuilt while Hiroshima was. The conclusion drawn by the email is that this key difference between Hiroshima and Detroit is that in Japan there is no welfare system but in the United States we have welfare institutions in place, therefore in Japan there was an incentive system that encouraged the citizens to rebuild while in Detroit the free money of the U.S. welfare system encourages people to simply not care.
First off, logically, it is incredibly simplistic and, bluntly put, downright wrong to draw a parallel between the situations in Detroit and Hiroshima and then blame it solely upon the existence of a larger U.S. welfare/social services network then any present in Japan. (Which on its own is wrong because in the U.S. social services/public welfare systems are handled on a blended model of local/state/national administration. Japan has a similar structure for its social services.) More critically though this email bluntly ignores the reasons for the rapid development of Hiroshima at the end of World War II. The city of Hiroshima was rebuilt during the U.S. Occupation of Japan, which took place from 1945 through 1951. During that period the government of Japan, with permission from the U.S. Occupational Authorities, levied special taxes upon the entire nation of Japan specifically to fund the rebuilding of Hiroshima. In addition the U.S. directly poured funding into rebuilding Hiroshima during this period as well – the devastated infrastructure of the city was cleared and new structures rapidly built to help restore the cities economic value and functionality. In fact Hiroshima had to appeal for the extra funding with a proposal to use it to build a new “Peace Park” as the center of the city, to commemorate peace and condemn in very general tones the horrors of war. That fit well with post-war U.S. policy towards Japan and hence why the “Peace Park” is in Hiroshima to the present day.
Hiroshima – a city rebuilt by massive direct investment in infrastructure repair and restoration by a national government and a large foreign government providing direct aid.
Detroit, on the other hand, is in a state of decay due to gradually shifting economic factors and market forces that have been changing how the United States functions as a nation since the mid-1960s and early-1970s. With the decline of the northern manufacturing industrial base upon which Detroit heavily rested, the massive riots in the late 1960s throughout the U.S. during the civil rights struggle (the 1967 Detroit Riots were considered some of the worst of this period.) There has been no major effort by the U.S. on a federal level to rebuild Detroit nor to attempt to offset its economic decline by a national effort. Detroit also did not suffer a single devastating disaster but instead deflated as a city, declining slowly as population left the city and nothing moved into the empty spaces to keep its economy fully functional. However currently there appears to be a slow movement by young populations back into Detroit – slowly bringing with them economic strength, consumer demand, and investment income. Which, in turn, has slowly begun to spark the beginnings of a renaissance for Detroit.
All of which, at best, has only a peripheral link to welfare programs between the U.S. and Japan. One could as easily draw a link between Hashima Island in Japan (an abandoned coal mining island which has an incredibly dense, highly urbanized city on top of it now simply allowed to decay) and Texas City, TX and its devastation after the 1947 industrial explosion and how today it is a thriving city with great economic development. Of course you can then link that to the amazing welfare system in the U.S. as compared to Japan.
If you see this email do yourself a favor – look at the pretty pictures, smile to yourself, and then delete the damn thing!